The Brand of Nasht

This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.

The Relevant Research:What’s In a Name?

It started in my left palm when I was five, dying skin forming a single pale letter. It stretched out in both directions like a skeletal pair of wings or an ant with too many legs. There were hushed whispers of what it meant, but for ten years the spreading script in some unintellegible language continued. At last, my mother sat me down in private, as both hands already stung to use and searing marks made their way down my back. And she told me a story. A story of her old life, away from the hills, when she lived on the plains of Kaman-Thah.

On those plains, in the house of a noble queen, a word was spoken in wrath and greed, in prideful seeking of power from old scrolls. And this hidden word, this ancient name, spread along the walls and pillars, like ivy of fire. Those who heard it broke and bent, and the first bearer of the name emerged from the carnival of seared flesh. Within days, her home was changed in way she couldn’t say. The name that scarred the stars in the sky, granted fire to the eyes, and rent the veils to hidden places spread not just in the shouting of the mad man plague, but seared its way into souls through their very eyes. She had fled into the hills, pregnant with me when she reached the hills, among people who nothing of the word, her face bearing scars of that old encounter.

To rid herself of the name that wormed it’s way through her flesh and blood, sketching itself into her eyes and cheeks, she spoke it one more time alone to me. For my first name was that ancient and dread name, exorcised into me as a babe. She gave my second name to me in a proper ceremony, bore it in a sealed talisman, and taught it to everyone so that the children wouldn’t release that poison. But they knew. If not the form, they knew the substance.

Hand2Mark.png

And now, the name long dormant, never spoken for more than a decade, was waking. It was time for me to go, lest it burst free and devour my home. They had considered killing me before now. But they were afraid. The curse might escape in my blood on the ground, or into the air with my dying breath. So I wasn’t going to die. But I couldn’t stay.

I begged my mother not to send me out of the hills I had known. I begged to stay somehow. I begged even for life not that far off, on a hill a day away, in a hut of my own building. But there was no negotiating. I pleaded a way to cure the markings that spread. My mother showed mercy, her diamond face cracking slightly. She knew no cure for that curse, she confessed. But perhaps, in the storied halls where the name had been kept, deep in Kaman Thah, I might find solace. She told me which direction to run, gave me a meal to depart with, and sent me on my way.

My first thought was to go to my neighbors, but there door was locked and they didn’t here my knocking on the door. By the time I gave up on receiving hospitality from anyone I’d known , the sun was rising impatiently on the horizon. Hurry up, it whispered on the morning breeze. You can’t lurk here forever. I set out then, with but a meal and a notion of where to go.

When I wondered into other towns, ones that new my marks and hurled stones at me, I thought of home. I wondered if they wept when I was gone, or if they had done all the weeping when I was born. I learned to wear heavy rags, to scavenge clothes on the days journey, following whispers as hunger gnawed away at me. I barely slept, even on those nights where my bed was the soft grass and my roof a friendly moon. Most nights it was neither.

Kamanthah.png

A waste encircles Kaman Thah. The ground is a rusty red, a scabbed over wound from long ago. Spires shoot up on the horizon, arrow shafts jammed into the flesh of the earth. I scurried across the crumbling dried mud that made up the cloudless land, forgetting my rags I drew near. There was a faint wind, heaving over the ground and forcing a thin mist of the

I saw the letters that were emerging on my skin inscribed into shattered stones that seemed to pulse as I got close. I saw rotting blots that made the contours of characters on the trenches that ringed the city. When I approached the great gates, broken down and twisted by unseen hands, I saw the cancerous cyan light all around me. The windows and doors of the buildings were bloated and molded into half formed faces within faces, crumbling edifices that if somehow brought together would be a perfect sculpture of the dread sorcerer. Pulsing stars made up their brickwork and mortar, hanging on the skeletons as the flesh of a jellyfish lightly adheres to water.

As I took in the sight of so much mutilated masonry, I heard footfalls down the streets. There, hunched over the twisted fractal fingers that a statue had become, was a thing like a man or dog. Its forelimbs where bent thrice, a jagged line that ended in double-sided hands that seemed stitched together. A tail with a luminous stinger swept back and forth as it observed me, its face a mass of iron that dripped onto the floor. The thing loomed over, white flames slipping out of the shifting eyes. For a moment, I thought that like a stray dog it may be befriended, beast in this strange city that might enjoy company. And then it screeched at me and bolted off.

As I felt the pang of not being of interest, I grew suddenly afraid of a more terribly shape and sound—a drunken and sickly choir making its way toward me, a mass of bodies lurching forward with jaws that reached to their distended stomachs and flesh that folded together. At once they were one and then many, and when that sea of eyes laid on me, they were far less passive. Their bodies became vigorous and the tide surged towards me as I ran down a nearby alley, weaving through the paths that from above formed the start of that name. I hid behind a door of open palms as the mass surged past, its many arms still outstretched to find more food for the fold.

RuinStreet1.png

When I was sure they passed, I slipped back out. Clutching the cloth close over my warped limb, I carried on. I didn’t know what I was looking for…or rather I knew, but not what it would be. My mother had said to seek scrolls for some cure, but I had no illusions that such a thing could be found. Not anymore. No, in this city of broken reflections and copies of copies and recreations that crumbled after themselves, I sought the name in it’s fullness. I sought that thing that was what I might be, what I could become.

I sought to drive a knife into its head and make it bleed for cursing me, to watch it die on the streets of its own shape, until from its corpse I might find meaning and that most basic of life’s blessings that was stolen from me. I wanted to watch that damned sorcerer’s pusling form die in his temple to himself, bleed out in his own ego.

Other creatures appeared, but seemed unconcerned with me. A great winged thing, with a serpent neck and a head full of eyes flew over head. It’s feathers fell sloppily on the floor, cracking the ground beneath the wait of letters they formed. The name was everywhere, but unfinished and poorly rendered. I knew the shapes from my hand, where it still refined and spread even then. I followed the sections that looked most finished, that most resembled my palms brand, for what have been days—for the sun and moon and stars all too were bent stranger here, into writing in glowing lines upon a twisted sky.

Temple Hall1.png

Until at last after days of worming my way through the mass of bodies and brickwork, I found it. A towering temple body. A hundred hands drooped onto the street, pillars of the hunched over form. As I stepped between them, into the interior, I saw that the arms that held the dreadful body aloft were fractal, each composed in turn of a hundred smaller limbs. Within I saw a glimmer of light reflecting off some strange shape inside.

Haggard and tired breaths pushed through the body of the sorcerer, from mouths unseen. The smell was at one time putrid rot, at other times sweet honey. My gaze fell upon the head of the aborrent thing which was made of rust red flesh, colder and less harsh on the eyes than my own limb. In the back, staring over the finger formed iconostasis with a many pupiled eyes it waited. I drew closer, waiting for a snarl. Waiting for a sign, a woven spell, a flash of light, or worse.

Closer, closer, crawling over the bent wall and remains. With a sharp stone in hand, I was close enough to touch that strange pulsing mass of eyes. Carefully balanced, I stared at the infinite inscriptions of the name, each marking and completion within itself. Over and over it worked itsway on the flesh of the temple, symetrical and unbroken if faded with the winds of time. Every blow bled that name in bright colors down its red face, down my hand and on the stone as I smashed it’s eyes and skulls apart screaming vengance, laughing, crying as it bled and as the breath began to stop.

I feel to my knees laughing as the dread sorcerer died, my hundred hands holding me above the ground. My hundred fold eyes saw the temple fade into another corpse, as I stood tall. It was dead, except in my head. The name was gone, and I left that city triumphant and towering over the broken and half-formed progeny of it’s endeavor. The pains of my flesh born limbs were gone, and I set my eyes northward, to show my mother what I had become.


I enjoyed writing this story. I think it could obviously use some work, but this is the first one in sometime that I felt at least had a fun premise and concept. It was nice to write after some more academic work, and to indulge in something like character work–something that is usually lacking in the stories I manage to produce in a week.

Next week! Making life, the new old way!

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What’s In a Name?

This Week’s Prompt: 63. Sinister names—Nasht—Kaman-Thah.

The Resulting Story: The Brand of Nasht

We begin this week with an interesting pair of names that are of note in the world of the Mythos: Nasht and Kaman-Thah are the priestly guardians of the Dreamlands of Earth, preventing the unworthy from journeying there in slumber. This role lacks the sinister overtone that Lovecraft has here described; all accounts point to Nasht and Kaman-Thah being beneficent forces of caution. Digging around the paragraphs or so dedicated to them in the Dream Quest for Unknown Kadath, we find a few suggestions of where to go. They wear crowns of Egypt and have at the center of their temple is a pillar of fire that seems to reference Zorastrian fire shrines. Mr. Lovecraft’s interest in magicians of the middle east—hardly a unique topic for his time—is well noted.

However, the use of names might provide more of a resource. Names are things with no small amount of power. The real name of an individual can grant power over said person. Isis gained power over Ra by means of learning his true name. Ra in turn formed the gods from naming of his limbs, according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. These names can be invoked for the safety of the travel into the world of the dead. The name of a god invokes their power—it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that Catholic and Orthodox rites are preformed, for instance. The inability to name or create image of the Abhramic God is precisely because of this power wrapped up in names.

TheFuries

The Kindly Ones

This power of names and the divine extends further into mystic and magical arts. Writing the name on pieces of lead and burying it in the ground was a common way to lay a curse on someone in Greece and Rome. The recitation of names is key in conjuring forth demons in the Goetic arts. In the Odyssey, the name of Odysseus has to be learned for the curse of Polyphemeus to lay hold on him. Without the name, the curse couldn’t find its mark and be grounded in the world. Names are often changed for the sake of politeness: The Friendly Folk and Kindly Ones (the fae and furies, respectively), are named not so much for accuracy as for appeasement.

The names of children are of special importance. Many cultures take pains to wait to name the child, especially in regions with high infant mortality. The role of Christening in some countries doubles as protecting the child and marking the child as a social being. The child becomes more real when named. Naming a child after an ancestor honors the deceased and builds protection. The Netsilik and other Inuit people invoke lengthy names, therefore, so that a newly born child has a number of protectors. New names are added to the child’s birth name as life goes on, helping further protect them.

Abraxas

Abraxas

Amulets in particular often have names inscribed on them, in order to ensure the protection of the depicted figures. Amulets may have gods themselves, saints, and so forth. The most memorable of such entities, for me, is Abraxas. Abraxas is a rather strange entity, a god or demon or aeon or perhaps the God, who we know chiefly through amulets that display his form: a man with a rooster’s head and snakes for legs.

The Olympian Spirits—not to be confused with the Olympian Gods of Greece—also provide power by engraving their names on objects, granting long lives, familiars, and other mystical powers. With proper preparation, these strange entities are formidable tools of magic indeed. Sadly, whatever tradition they belong to appears lost to history.

The Sigils of the Olympic Spirits

Symbols of the Olympian Spirits, for use on amulets.

Other times, the actor takes on the name and role—and thus power—of an entity by assuming their name and a mask. This role, often taken up by priests, could give insight into our ensuing plot where one becomes the named entity for a duration of time.

The name then has mystical and magical import built into it. But the problem is greater here, in that theses names we are given are sinister, left handed and wicked. What does it mean for a name to be sinister? Is it a wicked sounding name? In all likelihood, that is what Lovecraft meant, but that is a boring answer so I’ll ignore it.

Hephestus

Hephaestus, the occasional employer of the Dactyls.

As a brief aside, while digging for information on name invocation, I came across an oddity. Now, its fairly well known that sinister has its roots in the Latin for left handed(sinister). The act of theurgy, sorcery, and demonic invocation traces itself back, etymologically, to the left hand Dactyls. This connection, while tenuous, seems like it could be built on. After all, Egypt and Babylon have sorcerer connotations to some (we discussed the implications of that here, in case your wondering). Names then could wrack strange effects on the world.

Another answer is that these names are emblematic of wicked or dangerous powers. These are sinister names, in that they are names not meant to be said or they will draw unwanted attention when invoked. A curse or a demon swear. The names, when given or spoken or taken, work some disturbing change on that which they touch. We can consider the various names that mustn’t be said in this category. Hastur’s supposedly dangerous name, for instance, is in this category.

Another possiblity is that the assumption of this name brings about something sinister. By becoming, in a very real way, Nasht or Kaman-Thah, the person becomes wicked or inclined to wickedness. They become something like a demon by taking on the mantle of long lost powers.

That leaves what has happened. We could do a story that tells how these ancient names became sinster—what force or history made them so corrosive? Alternatively, the names are inscribding on a tablet, a piece of paper, an amulet of some sort that afflicts the people who behold it or touch it. The names themselves are inciting and powerful implements, if mostly passive agents in the world. What effects they cause, what curses they bear are matters to be worked out.

I think I will take a different route. Instead of dealing with the horror at first and straight ahead, it would be better to come at the invocation and evocation of these dread names as things of the past. The utterances or history of these names, written and embodied in the world.

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The Demon Throne

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Prior Research:Pilgrimages

There is an old road that runs beyond the world, to a most holy land. Beneath the two outstretched arms of giants, frozen for hubris long ago and now bleeding basalt in perpetuity, beyond the watch posts of the Crimson Kings who bear swords that sing, past the walls of stars that stand sentry against the crawling things. The road is worn, and broken in parts. Pavement and stones come and go, stone incarnations of an irregular heart beat. Drops of the old pulse still pass, following it past the end of the world to a most holy land.

Men and women who travel that road rarely come to it’s close. Most grow tired of their searching, abandon it for a highway, forming clots of wooden huts that grew sometimes into small towns. Others perished of over belief, forgetting their still mortal needs. Their skulls, if they were holy in death, grew into strange shapes. Some gained eyes after death, some horns, some became pallid growths in the earth, morticians moss on Mother Earth.

Azathoth City Body 1.png

And some found themselves in a situation like the sage Gilmora, in a cage of well made iron, bereft of his votive offerings of brass and his occult jade tools currently picking the flesh out of Negoi’s teeth. Negoi sat between the other two bandits, a mountain of muscle, with a necklace of relic fingers and tokens strung like beads. Occasionally he stirred the bronze pot, carved with divine faces, with the staff of some less fortunate traveller.

“So, what’s the haul with this one?” He asked the fellow to his right, who had cracked open the wooden case Gilmora had born with him.

“Not much, not much food anyway. Some skull thats gone and turned green.” Dozji said, holding the skull of St. Jian in one hand, turning it over and pulling out a cork seal. “ Dust in side. Smells like rotten eggs.”

“That’d be sulfur. I read once, stuff burns like fire, stings awful. Don’t know why you’d put it in a skull.” The third bandit, Olmoi with his beady red eyes said, looking up from the scrolls he had hanging from the branches. The letters on some were small square blocks unknown to Gilmora, while a codex of great worth was torn at the trees base, pages used to feed the fire of boiling flesh and fat.

“Maybe you throw it and the skull breaks on’em!” Dozji said, resealing the skull. “What do you say, little pig? Or is this how you lot season your food.”

“If a man is what he consumes, the ashes of a saint and sulfur can only do you good, friend.” Glimora said, folding his legs.

Skull Manuscript.png

Olmoi stopped Dozji’s hand before he poured the ash into the stew, shaking his head and quietly explaining that he would in fact perish, and kill all of them while he was at it. The three of them split the soup without any more of the saintly seasoning. Drinking out of the meditation bowls thank rang slightly when they hit the gold with their false teeth, making strange ringing for seconds before stoping at their lips. The conversation then went on to Glimora.

“Monks don’t fetch as much as they used, but I’m not sure if he’s worth eating…” Dozji muttered.

“Might be holy enough, we could hack him up. Polish his bones, sell him off as relics…” Negoi said, looking up from his bowl, turning it over so the scraps of less edible meat fell into the fire, crackling for a moment as the fat caught flame.

“If their relics, shouldn’t we just keep’em?” Olmoi said, frowning. “I mean, can’t monks tell what ain’t relics?”

“Yeah, but not fast. We can ditch them for another road or something.”

Gilmora sat serenly through the conversation, his mind’s eye wandering over the hills to see if that etheral city might be spotted. As the conversation continued, his invisilbe pupil continued on, settling in the barren wastes for a time. When he was done, he unfolded his legs and stood, walking to the edge of his cage.

“Ah, well, have an idea of where we should start?” Negoi said, messaging the finger bones and turning up from the conversation. Gilmora said nothing, walking to the front of the cage. His bones bent wax like round the iron rods, muscle and sinew folding out to make more room, before stitching himself back together on the other end with thin filaments of silk woven by unseen spiders.

“I knew he was holy.” Negoi murmured, before reaching for the sacrifical knife at his side and lunging at the escapd man, and running him through. Gilmora politely pushed the man back onto the fire, where the fat burned and scalled through the clothes of long dead pilgimrs, and the oil from the relics along Negoi’s neck burned bright.

Olmoi and Dozji merely stared as the pilgrim Gilmora went on his way, marching measuredly out of the camp and into the woods, back to the shimmering holy road. Olmoi glanced at his terror stricken fellow, before going after the escapee.

Olmoi had never followed the Pilgrim Road past the blasted heaths and hills, where none had returned. Negoi had once, and told the younger bandit that to glimpse that land was the worst decision of his life, and set him against any such pilgrims searching for that holy of cities, where demons walked the streets unhindered.

Azathoth City Body 2.png

Gilmora floated down the road then, barely touching the ground now. Olmoi heard distantly the song of a great beast, a deep siren sound of a whale as they drew near the iron hill. And there, for but a moment, in the indigo light of that place beyond the world, he saw the throne of Azathoth. The pulsating, squamous seprentine mass, grooves the size of buildings rising from the bulk as a mass of eyes and teeth stared down in all directions. At the center was a great maw, echoing outward with that song through fibrous teeth. Great was the yawning mass, an abyss of flesh with fingers reaching out on the wind.

And then Gilmora was gone, leaving not but his skull behind, smoke and dust swirling into the embrace of the demon king’s throne. The carnivorous cavern lasted but a moment more, a dread and terrible light shining within, beckoning like a beacon at sea. And then, it too was gone. Olmoi stared for a moment in terror, before collecting the skull of Glimora. Out of it’s foramen magnum dripped a sweet smelling liquid, like honey. But it’s touch burned Olimoi’s fingers. He flipped it in his hands and carefully carried it back to mortal lands. But that is a story for another time.


This was a rushed story, to be honest. My first few drafts were boring, tiresome, and had nothing happening. This is the result rewrite that tried using the pilgrimage as a spring board, and expanding into actually including characters. Next time, however, we will return to an old well of classic horror: Burial alive.

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Pilgrimages

This Week’s Prompt:61. A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.

The Resulting Story: The Demon Throne

A traveler’s corpse has been found on the road, heading to some distant holy sight ruled by a demon king. We’ll be digging up a number of corpses for this one. Because, as shocking as it might be, diabolic creatures as sources of heavenly insight are not as uncommon as you might believe!

Azathoth we’ve talked about at length here, so we won’t repeat much of mythos lore here. We do have stories of individuals going to Azathoth’s black throne, to sign in a dread book for knowledge and witch craft. But for the most part, the court of Azathoth is referred to only obliquely and in reference to the dance and music of various gods. That done, there is a precedent of demon kings having a good deal of heavenly knowledge. We discussed one such being last time we did research: Asmodeus.

Asmodeus.png

Asmodeus is a demon of some note, who has an odd reputation in the midrash and talmud around holy texts. He has done dreadful things, such as slaying seven successive husbands of a woman in the Book of Tobit, but has also aided in things such as building the temple itself. He gave knowledge of the future to Solomon and provided, by a trickster curse, an education on reality with the ring.

The capacity to grant knowledge is associated with a number of demons in the Ars Goteia. The play Faust also includes the conjuring of a demon for the knowledge such a fallen angel possesses. The logic is rather clear here: An angel has a view of all the cosmos, but is in alignment with God. Distracting an angel from it’s divine task is, of course, sinful. But a demon has nothing better to do and may possesses some of the knowledge of their deeds before the fall. The binding of demons into objects, either for wonderous working or in order to compel knowledge from them, was a tradition of sorts in the early church. The dangers of this hubris are rather obvious, and the practice was mostly suppressed.

It should be noted that such knowledge bearing principle is no doubt tied to the association of demons with the dead, who we discussed consulting here. As many demon lords have no knowledge, and in fact are deceivers as much as any. Not far from Asmodeus, we find Ahriman, who is the literal lie to Ahura Mazda’s truth in Zorastrianism.

Shukra.png

Wise demons, to stretch the term somewhat, is found more prominently in the Asura of India. Mahabali was an asura king, celebrated by his subjects, who regularly preformed penance in order to return to the world of the living. Shukra serves as the guru of the asura, as knowledgeable as the guru to the more heroic devas. Sunda and Upasunda were asura brothers who’s asectisim grew dangerous and frightening to the gods, to the point were the god Brahman was compelled to grant them a boon. The Tripasura, who we discussed here, gained their dominion over the world and their near invulnerable cities by mediation and religious practice.

A demon as the goal of a pilgrimage is rather unusual, however. The typical pilgrimage goal is to some holy site. In Europe, the locations of miraculous items, either the bodies or images of saints. Copies of these images are often sent back as markers of their successful pilgrimage. These tokens typically contained some miraculous power of their own, refracted from the original.

The power of these sacred places is best known to me regarding icons. Images of saints and holy figures, the miraculous icon often has healing power attributed to it. The image’s attributites can be more extreme however. When a bishop unveiled an icon despite tradition, the image of the virgin Mary underneath drove him to suicide. Other instances are recorded of the image’s mere gaze driving out demons from the bodies of the possessed. The end of the road of a pilgrimage is a sacred work, but the sacred is dangerous and powerful.

Kaaba.png

The most famous pilgrimage, of course, is the pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims, carried out once in a life time. The Hajj has its specified time, the eighth to twelfth month of the Muslim calendar, and attracts millions every year to Saudi Arabia. The Hajj, as one of the five pillars of Islam, is necessary barring financial or health concerns. The site itself contains what, according to the Koran, is the first place of worship constructed by Ishamael and Abraham. The sites holiness cannot be overstated in this case.

Other faiths maintain their own pilgrimage sites: Zorastrians to fire temples that have survived, Hindus to the sites of major moments of divine action, Buddhists to sites of the life of Buddha. I know less regarding these, however, and didn’t have the time to delve into any of them deeply as I would have liked.

Journey to the West.png

In addition to these, there are stories of pilgrimages. One that sticks out to me, with talk of demons and such, is the Journey to the West. Here, while demons are not the goal of the pilgrimage, they are assisting in the travel—admittedly for their own benefit, but still. The pilgrimage in that case is of a Buddhist monk retrieving a set of scriptures from India to be brought to China, for the betterment of all. Here we have demonic aid for the completion of the pilgrimage, and demonic challengers to the progress of our pilgrim.  There is more to go into on the Journey to the West, but as it is a classic work I encourage my fellow scholars of the deceased to pursue it on their own. 

There is also the collection of stories known as the Cantebury tales. While a bawdy and comedic affair, and ranging in quality and incomplete, the story does center around the people who travel on this pilgrimage, their reasons and their means, and how they entertain themselves along the way. This format was taken up later, in a science fiction context, in the novel Hyperion to good effect as well.

A danger to said pilgrims, found in the Christian tradition, has some odd horror aspects as well. As holy figures, the remains of pilgrims were sought for as relics. While some villages and towns were content to merely find those who died of exhaustion or exposure, at least one went beyond. One Saint Gerald of Cologne–who’s documentation I can only find below–was killed by bandits near Cremona, and then had his relics stored their for future reverence. This sounds to me similar in principle to the demons of Journey to the West who seek to set upon the monk for his immortality-granting-flesh.

There was a recent murder in Spain of a pilgrim from the United States. While the motives are unknown, the murderer did intentionally mislead and disorient the woman in question, before murdering her and mutilating her body. The pilgrims road is thus perhaps still dangerous in the modern era.

The pilgrimage then can serve both as a source of danger and a way to unite a diverse number of characters. The motive in this case, to behold the court of the ultimate creator (As Azazoth is to a point), and the ultimate source of knowledge can include any number of beings as well as professions. And a winnowing of visitors—akin to the one at the frozen mountain with a garden atop—would also be a start.

The story should certainly establish the reasons or motives for the traveling—even if only in a line or two, or perhaps by implication—and what the expected difficulties are, how they’ve prepared, and then get into how thing begin to go wrong. It could end with the death or dissertion of all pilgrims before reaching the fabled throne, or we might glimpse that ultimate mystery ourselves. The history of searching for the holy is fraught with challenges. The Grail Quest removes nearly a third of all the knights of the Round Table and leads eventually—in some versions—to the downfall of the entire court. The dangers along the roadside are numerous.

I have a few ideas of horrific or horror tinged pilgrimages to strange and dark locations. The throne of Azazthoth, and the holds of demon princes and kings in general, are well guarded, far way, and deserted places. Our pilgrims will be risking mind, body, and soul for a glimpse at that ultimate font of reality.

There is a story of what happens when one glimpses the ultimate paradise. Four rabbis entered. One went mad, one became a heretic, and one died. Only the fourth entered and left in peace. To look upon the holy is to risk everything. The horror. The horror.

Biblography:

Garnett, Jane, and Gervase Rosser. Spectacular Miracles: Transforming Images in Italy, from the Renaissance to the Present. Reaktion, 2013.

Geary, Patrick. 1986. “Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics” in Arjun Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.169-91.

Vauchez, AndreÌ. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2005.


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The Sacred Fish

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.

The Prior Research:Dredged Up From The Depths

The fisherman of the western cliff face, far from the city of Kahal, lived entirely at the mercy and providence of the primeval mother sea. On it’s black waves, as the moon glimmered down, a passing stranger would find one of the small ships sailing along the cliffs and coves, dragging the net behind. Old Ichabod kept his ship out late that night, searching for fertile waters. His ship was slow, his nets were poor. His wife Sarah had held their home, by carving the other fish and making clothes to sell. So tonight, he sailed past his normal waters, off towards the shores marked by crumbling pillars.

During the day he would not be so daring. For reasons long forgot, the village did not fish in the bay where old spiraling coral rose as long lost gate posts. But such protected paradises become rich for desperate plunder. The waves were strong at the coral edge, and most canny fisherman avoided the bay for those dangers alone. Ichabod, however, moved between them with ease. He dragged his nets along that shallow floor, looking to bring fish that had never seen such a boat. And shortly after, his nets grew heavy.

DeepFish2.png

Pulling them over, he found them thick with a pulsing white mass of fish. They were strange, squirming, wretched things. Their skin was smooth to the glance but sharp to the touch. They had no eyes, and no teeth in their mewling mouths. Their fatty, fleshy bodys struggled feebly against the air. But their bodies, as life left them, smelled like honey and their blood was like olive oil. Despite having never seen such things,Ichabod reasoned that such a haul was worth returning with, and the fish worth at least a taste.

Icahbod slipped back home in silence, returning home to a confused wife. He took one of the fish inside and carved it, and cooked it in the pan. A bit of fat flickered off it’s goldening meat and onto his thumb. He took a quick taste, and found the substance tasted sweet and succulent. The finished fish was filling, the best the couple had ever consumed.

They were less delighted and more deeply confused when the next day, Sarah found herself sick in the morning. The two went to a wise woman, who confirmed their suspicion. Sarah was pregenant. The two were both delighted and confused. They hadn’t lain with each other in some time. Ichabod grew wrothful, suspicious that some more fortunate fisherman had visited his wife. But her pleading convinced him she had been faithful. Strange as it seemed, the two concluded the fish were to blame.

The bounty of fish, cooked to delight, brought them some fame in the day as well. And, full of daring, Ichabod made the trip again and again, growing rich off the sweet tasting blind fish. It’s effects became known, as many women was with child in a few weeks, and the village hungered for more of the strange fish.

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Other sailors began to wonder where Ichabod got his fish, unseen elsewhere in the ocean. A few tried to follow him at night, but Ichabod was wise to them and refused to sail to his hiding spot until he was sure he was alone. The fish he ate restored him every day, as if he’d never slept.

But one of the farmers, a younger boy Obed, snuck aboard Ichabod’s ship one night, hiding in the cabin as the fisherman left the shore. And by moonlight, through the door, he saw Ichabod breach that taboo bay. He was so startled he let out a squeal, revealing himself to the old fisher man’s wide pupiled eyes. Icahbod had the boy over the edge in moments, dangling by his shirt.

The boy quickly offered to help Ichabod catch even more of the fish, saying that with two ships, they’d both make four times the profit, helping each other carry more of the load back. And Ichabod considered, and agreed, for substantially more of the profit than a mere half. Given his precarious position, the boy agreed.

So the fish poured in greater numbers, their mewling and whining stifled by the flames and ever hungry populace. Eventually, Ichabod hit upon a better idea. He and the boy went and rebuilt the old tower near the bay and built a crude gate. Coming to town, he explained that he would allow any to fish from his hidden bay for a fee.

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At first there were threats of violence, but by then Ichabod had grown large from his diet. His skin was growing gold, and his hands had become webbed. Small growths had appeared within his mouth, barely visible but he felt them when he ate. It made eating much hard, but the small growths massaged the soft flesh of the fish well, refining there flavor and picking bones clean, saving him the bother of cleaning the fish. Some even said he at them live. In the last three months, he’d grown a foot in height. The boy, in his fishing and abundance of the fish he had, was up to his shoulder and had small teeth running on the top of his mouth. The two of them had nothing to fear of violence. So the village relented.

It became common to spend nights in the bay, catching fish and eating them on the shore, before retiring home in the morning, to tend to wives and trade with sea born merchants, who found the changes startling. Men and women and children no longer ate grains, but devorued fruit and raw flesh. Their skin was paleand scaled, their arms lengthy. Ichabod allowed traders to ply their wares, but prohibited them enter his bay, erecting barricades around his tower and piling stones to hurl at vessels. He and his wife rarely left their tower, sending the fishing boys to do his biding from the shore.

But even this was tiresome. In time, the village moved into the bay entirely. They caught the fish with their hands, no longer bothering with nets. They had boats, but swimming in it’s inky deep was a common pastime. And, at last, the children were born.

They were pale mewling things, with eye lids too heavy to open, and skin that was soft to look at but sharp to the touch. Their hands had small claws, and their mouths had loathsome tendrils, perfect for catching fish and the deeper things of that by gone bay, the things that had lurked so long ago in sacred waters long forgotten. And so the people of the western shore were known as far as distant Kahal.


That ends this weeks tale. I had a busy week, so didn’t have the chance to review and rework this as much as normal. I like the general premise, and I think some horror of what you consume could be played with. A longer time scope would also serve the story: gradual mutation after eating unknown substances is ripe for material.

Next week: a pilgrimage to a demon throne!

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Dredged Up From The Depths

This Week’s Prompt: 60. Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.
The Resulting Story: The Sacred Fish

We’ll need a bigger boat for what can be dragged up with this corpse. Ignoring the moonlight for a moment, fisherman have a habit of finding strange things, from the medeterrain to Japan, and everywhere in between. If we put on our symbolic lenses, the reason might be apparent. The sea is a chaos and potent place. It is where anything can happen. And so, sometimes, everything happens.

A common fisherman catch is, unsurprisingly, fish. However, strange and rare fish are easy to find. A tale from Albania tells of a golden fish, which when caught and prepared, made a woman and a horse pregnant. Both children had a star on their brow, and go on to be fantastic heroes, marrying a shape-shifting gender bending moor and a djinn woman, blinding armies with their star-marked brows, and eventually confronting the treacherous king. In Japan, a species of mermaid if caught and eaten provides immortality but misfortune. Probably because of it’s all too human looking face. In Ireland, the Salmon of Wisdom provides…well, wisdom if eaten properly.

JapaneseMermaid

A German tale, recorded by the Brother’s Grimm includes a fish that grants wishes for it’s freedom in much the same way a genie might. An older version has the Yugoslavia version, where the fish gets caught so many times it accepts its fate and instructs him to cut it into six pieces, giving two to his wife and two to his horse and burying two in the ground after granting him a castle and gold. The result is two golden boys, two golden foals, and two golden lilies. A Greek version changes it to trees. The one brother goes out to make his fortune, the other stays at home. The adventuring brother pretends to be a robber and woos a maiden, and gets married. Then, he goes to hunt a stag and asked a witch for direction. The witch claimed to know where the stag was, but turned the man to stone. The other golden child came to rescue him and had his dog eat the witch up.

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Fish also have a knack for swallowing important things. Solomon once lost his ring to a fish, and with it control over his kingdom, which was destroyed bit by bit as he was helpless to watch. Another fish swallowed a wish granting treasure(the nature of the item is not specified in my translation of the Tibtean tales). While not swallowing it, a fish does guard the sword of Wild Edric who we covered last week.

Ainu stories, recorded granted over a century ago, include the notion of fish that contain magical properties and must be proprieties after they are caught. They share this notion with the Netsilik of Northern America. Further, fish caught may belong to a creature recorded as Konoto-ran-guru, and must be returned. A creature lurking in the middle of the sea, given to him is power over all sea devils and ill currents. He prefers his subjects, the malformed fish of the sea, be returned to him.

More malicous creatures arise from the sea of course. In the Maori story of Tawaki, a race of amphibous creatures kidnap and enslave the heroes mother, spending most of their time in the sea, and sleeping on land. When dawn comes, they must return to the sea or they will die. Tawaki slays them by decieving them about the time, with help from his captive mother.

And then there are the objects that are dredged up from the sea! In another story relating to King Solomon, a bottle containing a djinn is tossed into the sea and fished up later. The poor fisherman who dragged that up died of fright when the djinn emerged. This occurred in the City of Brass story mentioned last week as well, where it was a rather regular occurrence (funnily enough, those djinn thought Solomon still lived).

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Maui, that great Polynesian super man, washed onto the shore after his mother tossed him out. He, a fisherman in his own time, brought forth the arch-typical island from the sea on a fishing trip after his wives bothered him about his lack of fishing. He warned his brothers not to eat anything on the island, and not to disturb the island. Had his brothers not disturbed it, all islands would be perfect. But they did, and the island shook irritably, generating mountain ridges. It was a titantic and terrifying effort, ruined by a bit of carelessness.

Comparable, at least in part, to the fishing trip of Thor, where the thunder god nearly lifted up his own doom, the Jomundur serpent. The fishing expedition was one of frightful experiences for the giant involved, to say the least, who then tried to kill Thor and of course failed.

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Then there are the things from the sea that come of their own accord. The sea has an odd tendency towards spirituality! First there are the sages of Mesoptamian myth, who rise from the fresh water of Abzu, bringing law and culture with them to human kind. These fish-like sages further saved humanity from the flood, before being banished back to Abzu by Marduk. Japan features the prophetic Amabie who can see when bloody war is coming.

Then there are those strange monks and bishops in Europe. The Sea Bishop was reported in Poland in the 16th century, and was held captive by it’s king for many days. After a time, however, a visiting Bishop came across the creature, and it managed to communicate it’s want for freedom. The bishops released it and, before going below, it made the sign of the cross. Another was captured in Germany, but died fasting for three days and three nights.

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The washing up of strange creatures, such as whales and giant squid, sometimes unearth terrible things in the real world. The sea, chaotic thing that it is, spits forth monstrous things every now and then onto the shore. And sometimes with horrific consequences (such as when a number of people learned not to dynamite a whale carcass, video here).

Of course, this mythology is reinforced by the reality that happens with shocking frequency. Fisherman pull up strange and bizarre catches, which make their way into museums or conspiracy theories. From ancient remains to modern technology, the sea holds many wonders strange and bizzare hostages. Again from Japan, there is a strange craft with a woman and a small box, which fishermen found in the early 19th century. They deduced that the woman was an exile from a foreign land, and as her health was failing, they returned her to her reconstructed craft and set her to sea again.

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A fascinating horror story, of things washing a shore from the depths of the seas, can be found in the story The Thing that Drifted Ashore, a short horror comic that I found here. It has some interesting notions that are often found with the sea: dreams, the dead, tragedy, and horror. I won’t spoil it here, but Junji Ito is an artist and writer that you should make a point to check out.

Our own story will no doubt begin with the discovery of the strange and sequestered item from the sea. The item or fish will have some mystifying effect, transforming the community that finds it in some subversive or disturbing way. And then it will be discovered, and perhaps suffer Innsmouth’s fate. Or alternatively, we will end with some ultimate horrific and tragic act.

Batchelor, John. Ainujin Oyobi Sono Setsuwa. KyōBunkan, 1901.
Chopel, Norbu. Folktales of Tibet. Ltwa, 2006.
Elsie, Robert William. A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology and Folk Culture. New York University Press, 2001.

Grey, George. Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the Maori. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1974.

Megas, Georgios A. Folktales of Greece. P, 1970.

Sikes, Wirt. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. James R Osgood and Company, 1881.

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The Many Doors of the Dead

This Week’s Prompt: :59. Man in strange subterranean chamber—seeks to force door of bronze—overwhelmed by influx of waters.

The Research:Bound Beneath The Earth

Theodore was unconcious when the lowered him down the ancient pit. His mind had been adled shortly before, so that when he awoke, he would only distantly recall the actual descent. And his limbs would be limp, unable to resist his executioners. They were oddly kind for what they did, lowering him almost gently down to the dimly lit shore of that vast aquafir. After it was done, they cut the rope with a quick knife stroke, and closed the door.

Theodore came to an unknown time later, with only a dying fire and his stocks. Finding a sufficiently sharp rock, he bashed his hands free, and seized a larger piece to be a light. The rest he tossed on the fire, to shine brighter on his return. Doing so, he made his way along the shore. The water was fresh but almost algae filled. It lacked the familiar smell of salt, the motion of coming and going waves.

There were no shells, only broken stones along the shore, and the charred remains of other stockades and fires. Theodore stepped around them with some respect, wondering sometimes if something lived in the lightless pool. But no motion, not even the pull of the moon, seemed to alter it. Deciding that he would not die with only a pool of water to stare at, he turned away and walked deeper into his tomb.

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The first thing he found was a corpse, bloated and rotting from the nearby lake. It lay curled up at the bottom of an alcove, the burnt ashes of stocks having only left a vague mark on the ground. Theodore raised his torch a bit to see if any remained, revealing the man’s slack jawed face as he did so. His hair on end, Theodore turned and pressed on. The cave couldn’t go on forever.

Theodore found the quiet and emptiness made him prone to introspection. His shadows and the unmistakable presence of a hundred other condemned bodies were the only company. He wondered how long this receptacle of misery had existed. What crimes had condemned men through the ages down into the pits. Ages past they said, blasphemers, witches, sorcerers, and worse had been sent into the unknown depths of this purgatorio. Theodore felt his own crime, then, was rather small. A bit of blood on the stones was not compared to the horde of sinners that teemed around forgotten fires.

As the cave descended, the flickering light revealed crumbling walls and walkways of stone and dried mud, the outlines and echoes of a habitation. There were collapsed beams of smooth stone, having given way to long forgotten weights. There was nothing written here, no wind to stir the accumulated decay. The only marker of time was that as he went farther and farther, the buildings rose and grew sturdier and sturdier. As the fire began to fade a great gate, opened by a long forgotten traveler, came into view. It’s metal frame and wooden form were better made. Atop it was something inscribed:

The hands that raised me have perished. The hands that sought to tear me down have become naught but dust. The Sky that smiled at me is buried, and the mountains from which I was quarried are long worn down.

Inside the buildings were of stone, locked together without mortar. The cyclopean structures were preserved, with only broken shards of glass along the floor. Here, the dead had taken more corporeal forms. Corpses lay, as Theodore explored, against windows. They looked out longingly, minerals having long replaced muscle, statues frozen in rotting states. The dead idols, lifeless beyond dead, were found in the streets.

Here were some locked in embrace, heads tilted and small streams of salt marking where tears would fall. There, beneath the greened copper eagle, was a figure gripping at the base of an altar to some forgotten god. Around a dried fountain lay others, arms covering their chest. They waited in rows,eyes and tongues missing, some creature having long chewed them away before the petrified wastes could have their way. At the base of the fountain, Theodore found more scrawled writing in holy script.

Weep not for us, traveler, who has come to this most holy shrine. Far and wide is our fate known, and you must surely know it well. Your pilgrimage is welcome, to look upon our last works before the great gods recalled us to our heavenly posts.

Theodore continued on, stepping carefully around the stone bodies, moving deeper inward. The statues at the gate were crumbling horsemen, proudly facing out with rusted blades the underground lake, welcoming long passed foemen. The center statue between them had decayed such that the line between victor and defeated was hard to see. Whether the forms gripping the standing man’s limbs were carved from stone or frozen flesh, Theodore did not want to know. The limbs had fallen limp either way, outcry now fallen away, recorded only in it’s failure.

The dark had made Theodore numb. The vague outlines of finished structures, edged by shifting shadows, and the remains of the sedatives he’d been given when lowered into this pit had made put his mind into a state of dull curiosity. Still, the bodies had broken into his soul, and planted a seed of growing fear within. Deeper in, he went, until he came to an elaborate door of painted wood. When the torch touched it, it sparkled and nearly blinded him. The broken piece of stock dropped to the floor and nearly went out as he rubbed his eyes to see the bejeweled door. The engraving was as follows, in archaic tongues.

I defied the deep. I defied the Flame. But when at last my doom came, it made me hollow and hallowed my steal to gold. An exquisite corpse I leave, for lesser worlds to recall.

The buildings rose like columns beyond, broken tops of glass shimmering like stars from the torch. A shimmering and flickering of candles and the constant smell of incense and myrrh filled the air. Theodore tossed the burning remains of the torch aside, and watched in horror and awe as it caught on a puddle and ignited a larger fire from the strange mater. In the snaking light of the new inferno, he saw bodies wrapped in fine silk, with tendril funerary masks carved from green stone.

A pair of statues, carved from flesh colored stone and covered with moss, leaned forward in the hall. They were like lions, but with manes of peacocks feathers, a million colored and cracked eyes. Past them were orbs held up on hundreds of spindly legs, like spiders of glimmering glass, red sand illuminated by their circuitous path. They danced around a monolith with a whole running through and what appeared to be an entire choir of bells and drums inside it’s hollow frame. When Theodore rapped it, a wondrous tone was made.

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He could have, should have, wandered among those many delights for ages. Had Theodore done so, he would have perhaps found rare rest among illustrious if unknown people. The three eyed forms he found, their bodies thick in oil and dripping along the floor, eight feet tall and with the occasional visible claw, were at the least of more noble dress than those he left behind. There was something, however, that caught his eye. And Theodore’s eyes had betrayed him before into this down below.

There was a bronze door along the wall. It was plan, without ornament. There was an engraving, a fish and a hand. It’s meaning was lost to him, but given the dire warning that every other door had born, and the safety so far, Theodore was unafraid by now. He gripped the strange, circular hold, twisting it readily, and throwing open that antique door.

The onrush gave no moment for though. Lights were extinguished as the waves suddenly overcame him, overcame the tomb. Glass and fiber, metal and bone, silk and stone mixed in the pandemonium that fell out, that rushed down along. It swelled and surged, dragging the glorious dead to the convicted and damned, mixing the ashes of the condemned with the sacred oils of the eldest. When and how Theodore died, none can say. His fate was learned, when the waters bubbled up, out of that old forgotten hole.

I didn’t have time to edit this one as much as I wanted, and obviously the details of Theodore’s crime are left to the reader’s imagination more than I might have preferred. Aw well, that is the nature of these sorts of things. Next week, we pull strange and ominous things out of the sea!

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